I am used to seeing "leisurely" as an adjective exclusively, as in "walking at a leisurely pace." But today I read it used as an adverb in a New York Times review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer." It seems archaic to me to use it so (emphasis added):

[The director's] first American studio effort, “Wanted” (2008), is a modestly diverting if finally tedious exercise in which the stylized violence almost upstages its star, Angelina Jolie. “Wanted” is the kind of contemporary studio fun that shows a bullet exiting a human head in slow motion, giving you time to marvel at how the skin around the wound stretches as the projectile leisurely rips through the skull.

7 Answers 7


My dictionary shows the word as both an adjective and an adverb:

(adjective) acting or done at leisure; unhurried or relaxed : a leisurely breakfast at our hotel.
(adverb) without hurry : couples strolled leisurely along.

In your example, it makes sense to use the adverbial form. Why? An adjective would have to modify a noun. What noun would it modify? The writer is not talking about a leisurely projectile, a leisurely wound, leisurely skin, or a leisurely skull. The only thing leisurely in that sentence is the ripping action.

As for describing the formation of an exit wound as leisurely, I don't know if that sounds archaic. Instead, I see the pronounced irony as intentional, as a way to comment on the mood of the director's film.

  • 2
    which dictionary? can you give a reference or link?
    – Mitch
    Jun 23, 2012 at 14:48
  • @Mitch: I pulled those definitions from the dictionary preloaded on my Mac, which is the NOAD. Other online dictionaries, such as Collins, have decidedly similar entries. American Heritage reads: ADJECTIVE: Acting, proceeding, or done without haste; unhurried. ADVERB: In an unhurried manner; slowly. Webster's meanings #1 and #1 at this site convey that same sense of relaxed unhurriedness for both forms of the word, as does my Funk & Wagnalls print edition.
    – J.R.
    Jun 23, 2012 at 17:19
  • I don't doubt you or your sources, it's just that it makes things a lot more convenient to look up further details if you give the links right away in your answer.
    – Mitch
    Jun 23, 2012 at 19:05
  • @Mitch: I didn't take it as a challenge, and I thought you were right – I should have given the reference in my original post (I usually try to, but sometimes I forget). Since I had to answer your question anyway, I decided it wouldn't hurt to add a few other references.
    – J.R.
    Jun 23, 2012 at 21:09

According to Wiktionary, leisurely is acceptable as an adverb.


leisurely (comparative more leisurely, superlative most leisurely)
In a leisurely manner.

Oxford Dictionary of English has an entry of "leisurely" as adverb: "without hurry."

  • 1
    All your examples use 'leisurely as an adjective -not- as an adverb, the definition you gave at the top of your answer is giving the -meaning- of 'leisurely' nit a usage. 'couples strolled leisurely along...' uses it as an adverb and is equivalent to 'couples strolled in a leisurely manner along...'
    – Mitch
    Jun 23, 2012 at 12:15
  • I deleted the examples to avoid confusing in future visitors. Thank you @Mitch
    – user19148
    Jun 23, 2012 at 12:21

Leisurely is still acceptable as an adverb.

This is opinion shared with top English scholars. One of the most reputable dictionaries, Chambers, lists leisurely as:

leisurely adj not hurried; relaxed. adverb without hurrying; taking plenty of time

Of course, English can be used however you see fit, being a language, it constantly evolves to reflect what is said.


Regardless of what dictionaries says about others' usage, I cannot, in general, use any adjectives ending in ly as adverbs (whether with an extra ly or unadorned):

*You're explaining things love(li)ly / good(li)ly / friend(li)ly / ...
(cf, a lovely/goodly/friendly explanation)

Only the most high frequency adjectives in ly are vaguely acceptable as adverbs, yet they require a second ly:

You're running sillily / *silly 
You're singing ?uglily / *ugly

Maybe different regions/ages can behave as the dictionaries describe.

Sequences of identical affixes are frequently banned crosslinguistically. An example in English is the genitive plural of prince, in which only a single [əz] is pronounced (princ[əz], not princ[əzəz]). When one affix fails to surface, the phenomenon is known as haplology. For leisurely-ly etc., haplology is not available in my dialect, and the result is ineffability. Maybe those dialects that allow adverbial leisurely permit haplology here.

  • It is difficult to argue that silly and ugly are -ly suffixed at all. Of the two, only ugly has an etymological relationship to -ly, but hasn't been in any way transparent in form for centuries. So, these cases are probably not haplology anyway, but are awkward on phonological grounds.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 23, 2012 at 15:50
  • That's a really interesting observation. It didn't occur to me as I was writing. That said, there is evidence from neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics that we do decompose morphologically simplex words (like mother) when they end in a recognizable affix (here, er). So, though I agree with you that these may not be cases of haplology in the classic sense, their deviance may be related to the mechanism underlying haplology. Jun 23, 2012 at 16:02
  • Yes, that could be. I was thinking that having two consecutive unstressed syllables starting with /l/ might be the problem (as we don't really have that elsewhere in English I think?), but it might be extremely difficult to disambiguate that from your suggestion. Do you happen to have a reference for that "mother" example (or similar)? I'd like to read an article on that.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 23, 2012 at 19:28
  • These are subjective comments rather than a substantiated answer. 'Leisurely' is doubtless far less 'unacceptable' as an adverb than 'goodlily'. But the question requires usage data in a reasonable answer on ELU. Jun 21, 2016 at 9:06
  • There is no subjective element in my answer. I am reporting the facts for the English I speak, the variety I use when I publish in the US or UK. As a result, the answer is substantiated by usage data gained by the introspection of an expert speaker. Apr 19, 2021 at 19:41

I suggest replacing the grating usage of “leisurely” as an adverb with the mellifluous and unimpeachably correct “unhurriedly.”

  • 1
    This would be improved if you could provide some evidence that “unhurriedly” is unimpeachably correct. Apr 16, 2021 at 10:00
  • "leisurely" and "unhurriedly" have different connotations: the former implies recreation or enjoyment.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 16, 2021 at 11:47

When these noun+ly adjectives like timely, leisurely, homely, slovenly, motherly, and others get used as adverbs, it's hard to hear that as anything but symptomatic of erosion of language skills.

It's just a linguistic reflex, albeit an instilled one, to hear any adjective+ly in an adverbial sense and any noun+ly in an adjectival sense.

She motherly put the children to bed? Not hardly. ;)

When an IRS publication says that filing timely can reduce the risk of penalties, we make unflattering assumptions about the person who wrote that. More generally, such usage generally manages to suggest underdeveloped discernment.

Yet some dictionaries bless "leisurely" and possibly others of its ilk for adverbial use. Who knows, maybe such usage can be traced far back in English history. It nonetheless grates on reflex and on insight into how these words relate to -lich -lig -lik cousins in Germanic and Scandinavian languages. It's really hard not to spontaneously feel that if "couples strolled leisurely in the park" is not symptomatic of modern erosion of meaning, then it must be evidence of historical erosion of meaning.

So while, out of respect for authority, I won't write traffic citations for misuse of "leisurely," I'll nonetheless stick to a structurally consistent usage myself.

Now if we could just figure out where to put "comely"...

  • English has several adverbs that don't end in "ly" (fast, well, very, etc), just as it has adjectives that end in "ly".
    – Stuart F
    Apr 16, 2021 at 11:46

I like neither "leisurely" as an adverb, nor "leisurelily", if that were to exist. I replace this and other words that make me feel uncomfortable as adverbs in the same way with the adverbial phrase "in a leisurely manner" etc.

  • 1
    What about painfully walked, happily trilled, quickly dressed? These also use -ly words as adverbs.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 10, 2019 at 13:04

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